Skip to Content

Published on June 24, 2013

All-American Feast: Five tips for a safer summer cookout

With cold drinks, sweet treats and grills at the ready, the Fourth of July provides a perfect opportunity for a festive outdoor party. But practicing proper food safety is a must.

With hot temperatures and the increased potential for cross-contamination, picnics bring the possibility of foodborne illness and exposure to several cancer-causing compounds. Follow these tips from Eileen Conneely, a registered dietitian from Palos Health & Fitness Center, to help you celebrate the summer cookout season with sizzle, spice and everything nice.

Keep it Clean

Make sure your grill is clean. Scrub grates with hot, soapy water before every use. And always wash your hands before, during and after grilling.

 Grilling is an excellent way to cook healthy and eliminate unwanted fat,” Conneely says. “However, keeping your grill clean and cooking meats thoroughly is critical to preventing such food-borne bacteria as Salmonella and E. coli.”

Grilling also can produce two specific cancer-causing compounds, heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). While vegetables and other foods typically do not create these compounds, grilling meats at high temperatures can. Trimming fat, marinating and grilling at lower temperatures can help keep carcinogens on the sidelines.

Cook Thoroughly but Don’t Overcook

“Always cook picnic favorites like hamburgers and bratwursts to 160 degrees Fahrenheit,” Conneely says. Steaks should be cooked to 145 degrees and chicken breasts to 165 degrees. “A meat thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure foods are safe to eat.”

While it's important to cook poultry and ground meats thoroughly, be careful not to overcook any meat. Well-done or burnt meats contain higher levels of HCAs.


Researchers have determined marinating meat prior to grilling, even for just a few minutes, can reduce the amount of HCA by 90 percent or more. It's believed the marinade forms a protective barrier for the meat juices, preventing the HCA reaction from occurring.

Marinate meat in the refrigerator and bring leftover sauces to a boil before using them on cooked meats. For less charring, baste sauces containing sugars (fruit puree, honey, preserves) toward the end of cooking.

Prevent Flare-ups

Flames from grill flare-ups cause the formation of both HCAs and PAHs. Keep an eye on your grill, and turn meats frequently to minimize the risk of flare-ups.

Keep Perishables Cold

Perishable items need to be put back in the cooler, or refrigerator if available, after no more than two hours. Make it one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or above.

Easy Cookout Favorites

Try these healthy recipes for your next outdoor gathering.

Mini Burgers with Caramelized Onions

2 teaspoon canola oil

3 cups thinly sliced Vidalia or other sweet onion

½ teaspoon sea salt

12 ounces lean ground beef sirloin

1 tablespoon ketchup

1½ teaspoon steak sauce

1 large garlic clove minced

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

6 soft whole grain or other soft dinner rolls

6 to 12 baby arugula leaves (optional)


  1. Preheat the broiler or grill.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. In a medium bowl, add the beef, ketchup, steak sauce, garlic ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Combine until just mixed. Form 6 burgers.
  4. Broil or grill 1 minute per side, or until medium well. Remove from heat and let the burgers sit for 3 to 5 minutes before placing on buns. Top each beef patty with about 2 tablespoons caramelized onion and 1 to 2 arugula leaves.

Makes 6 burgers.

SOURCE: The All Natural Diabetes Cookbook


Shish Kebabs

6 cloves garlic, crushed

½ cup lemon juice

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 pounds sirloin steak, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 large onions, cut into 8 wedges each

9 skewers (if wooden, soaked in water 1 hour)


  1. Combine garlic, lemon juice, ¼ cup oil, salt, allspice, cinnamon and pepper in a medium bowl. Place beef in a large sealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.
  2. Preheat grill to high.
  3. Remove beef from bag, and discard marinade. Brush onions with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Divide beef among 6 skewers and the onions among the remaining 3 skewers. Grill the onions until charred and tender, 10 to 12 minutes per side. Grill beef, turning once or twice, until slightly charred but still pink in the middle, about 6 minutes. Serve with store-bought Tahini sauce.

Makes 8 servings.

SOURCE:  Eating Well, May/June 2007


Shaker-Style Smoked Chicken Thighs

½ cup vinegar

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup chopped shallot (about 2 medium)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat

1 cup wood chips, such as apple or hickory, in a foil pouch


  1. Whisk vinegar, oil and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in shallots and garlic. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to 3 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, soak wood chips in a bowl of water for 20 minutes.
  3. Fold a 12-by-12-inch piece of heavy-duty foil in half to create a 12-by-10-inch double-thick piece. Transfer wet wood chips to the center of the foil, allowing as much water as possible to drip back into the bowl. Create a packet by folding the short ends of the foil over the wood chips and folding the open ends to seal them.
  4. Make 6 holes in the top of the foil packet using a skewer or the tip of a knife. Place the packet of wood chips, pierced-side up, under the grill rack and on top of the burners. Close the lid. Turn the heat to high, and allow the grill and packet to heat until the chips smell smoky and smoke begins to billow from under the lid, about 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chicken to the grill, allowing excess marinade to drip back into the bowl. Discard marinade. Grill the chicken, turning once, until cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes per side. Serve hot or chilled.

Makes 4 servings.

SOURCE:  Eating Well, June/July 2006


Skewered Grilled Fruit with Minted Yogurt Honey Sauce

For sauce:
12 ounces (1½ cups) nonfat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
For skewers:
4 firm-ripe plums, each cut into 8 wedges
4 firm-ripe peaches, peeled and each cut into 8 wedges
½ ripe pineapple (1½  pound), peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
Special equipment: 48 (8-inch) wooden skewers soaked in water 1 hour


  1. Prepare grill for cooking.
  2. Stir together yogurt, honey, lime juice and mint in a small bowl, and chill until ready to serve.
  3. Thread about 4 pieces of fruit onto each skewer. When fire is medium-hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack 3 to 4 seconds), grill fruit in batches on lightly oiled grill rack, turning once, until browned and slightly softened, about 5 minutes total. Serve fruit on skewers with sauce on the side.
    Note: You can use a lightly oiled well-seasoned ridged grill pan to cook the fruit.

Makes 8 servings.

SOURCE: Gourmet, June 2001